▼ Report: Invisible (A day without art.)
Three artists discuss loss.
A conversation with Mark Dutcher, Christopher Stout & Damien Crisp –
Day Without Art (DWA) began on December 1, 1989 as the national day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis. To make the public aware that AIDS can touch everyone, and inspire positive action, some 800 U.S. art and AIDS groups participated in the first Day Without Art, shutting down museums, sending staff to volunteer at AIDS services, or sponsoring special exhibitions of work about AIDS. Since then, Day With(out) Art has grown into a collaborative project in which an estimated 8,000 national and international museums, galleries, art centers, AIDS social organizations, libraries, high schools and colleges take part.
In the past, “Visual AIDS” initiated public actions and programs, published an annual poster and copyright-freebroadsides, and acted as press coordinator and clearing house for projects for Day Without Art/World AIDS Day. In 1997, it was suggested Day Without Art become a Day With Art, to recognize and promote increased programming of cultural events that draw attention to the continuing pandemic. Though “the name was retained as a metaphor for the chilling possibility of a future day without art or artists”, we added parentheses to the program title, Day With(out) Art, to highlight the proactive programming of art projects by artists living with HIV/AIDS, and art about AIDS, that were taking place around the world. It had become clear that active interventions within the annual program were far more effective than actions to negate or reduce the programs of cultural centers.
DC: Strange to think the most rebellious artists in the 1980s, who looked for meaning in the empire of signs, died from Aids. We have few older artists to look to for examples of dissent. We have the revelers – Salle, Wool, Koons, Sherman… all of whom relished the empire of signs. What would David Wojnarowicz think of New York’s art world now?
CS: I think that the artists you mention make an invaluable contribution to the visual record. That being said, I think that a necessary counter balance to those voices was eclipsed as a result of the plague, and we have yet to comprehend the loss resulting from only one part of the visual story being told.
DC: Very sad, what we’ve lost and how we have yet to reclaim the loss.
CS: Damien – I’ve pondered this, and I don’t know how you’d go about the process of reclamation. Gay political art morphed into AIDS activism, which is now considered historically important but irrelevant from a contemporary standpoint. I feel like academia has decided that “everything relevant has already been said.” I can’t altogether disagree. If I knew the answer, I’d be painting it.
DC: Christopher, it struck me that many of the artists from the eighties, those who I would like to meet now or see their progression now, died. By some strange chance, do you think the loss of these artists – who typically worked from a place of rebellion – had an impact on art today, in the sense that today the overall stance towards the empire of signs, commodity culture, is a full embrace. It struck me that the artists who died fought against this commodity culture in their work. Am I off base in thinking this?
MD: I am 46. I lost two boyfriends and a whole circle of friends and reagan never mentioned the epidemic, not once. Sometimes I just get so sad thinking about what might have been. My boyfriend, Thomas died just months before the ” Aids cocktail” started to make a difference in the community. Haring, Wojnarowicz et al are f**king Heroes. I love Wojnarowicz’s writing. i wish they were all still here.
CS: You are absolutely right and helping me to articulate my point. The matter of orientation was just subtext. Think about it from the classic debate model (and this is very OVER-simplified); It’s the mid-80’s. You have the set of artists previously listed practicing work in a manner to espouse one construct of arguments, and you have your rebel shit-kickers whose work challenges the system. And then AIDS happens and all the shit kickers (who have radical sexual and gloriously deviant lives) get infected and die, which means that in short order, the voice of the first group becomes the prevailing argument. There is NO counter-balance. AND then that group proceeds to hand down their record in academic institutions et al. and the gap widens. That is the essence of the problem as I see it in 2009. It’s far greater than David wojnarowicz et al. dying… it’s the fact that they were not able to pass on the subversion to the next generation… and here we are.
MD: Sorry I did not mean to interupt. I agree with what you are saying Christopher, very interesting to think about this idea of radical/rebel class be replaced by a more easily commodified radicalism. I remember a shift after the first waves of death where people said to me i shouldn’t mention the AIDS epeidemic when talking about my work. I felt awkward like I wasnt supposed to mention that I/we had lost so much and that I was grieving. “Oh I am addressing ideas/issues of death and memorials….” I felt like I wasnt supposed to mention specifically that I lost my boyfriend to AIDS and that I crawled into the bed next to him at the Hospice. I was just a kid and everyone around me was dying.